[Marxism] NYT: Overwhelming US military power said to gain in Najaf; shrine wall damaged

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Aug 23 22:31:55 MDT 2004

There has never been any doubt that the full application of US military
power on the principle of killing as many of Sadr's militia as possible,
as was reported yesterday, could grind through to the mosque.  This is
also true in Fallujah and elsewhere where the occupation is being
challenged.  The alternative has become the fall of the Allawi
government and informing Iraqis that the country is beyond US control,
which would certainly encourage overwhelming resistance.  But the
political consequences of adopting this course could be even more
ruinous for Washington, and not just in the long run.

The Times reports that many militia members or supporters have left the
shrine and some have left Najaf.  If true, this may indicate  not simply
overwhelming US power but a division among the militia members about
attempting to hold the shrine at the risk of a damaging or destructive
imperialist attack.  

Overwhelming Militiamen, Troops Push Closer to Shrine

Published: August 24, 2004

NAJAF, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 24 - American forces sharply intensified
fighting here early on Tuesday morning, as troops attacked rebels loyal
to Moktada al-Sadr from three sides and pressed into the inner ring of
Najaf's Old City for the first time.

Inside the Old City, Mr. Sadr's loyalists appeared to be on the verge of
collapse as American forces overwhelmed the poorly armed rebels with
tanks, attack helicopters and AC-130 gunships. Many members of his
militia have fled Najaf since early Sunday, when American forces began
intensifying their assault, residents said.

Both the Army and the Marines took part in the latest attack, a
coordinated series of assaults that began before midnight and did not
cease until almost 3 a.m. The insurgents put up little resistance in the
north and west, and even in the south of the city, the scene of heavy
fighting during the past week, American forces seemed to take control.

After offering to negotiate last week, the interim Iraqi government
appears to have lost patience with Mr. Sadr, the Shiite cleric who has
fiercely opposed the government as well as the American presence in

On Monday, the interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, again demanded that
Mr. Sadr disband his militia, a step Mr. Sadr has refused. The American
attacks here have been approved by Dr. Allawi.

Even though his insurgents lost ground, Mr. Sadr may be hoping to gain
support from Muslim anger at the fact that American troops are fighting
so near the shrine of Imam Ali, one of Shiite Islam's holiest sites. 

On Monday, American tanks closed to within 250 yards of the shrine,
which Mr. Sadr's forces in Najaf have been using as a base. By early
Tuesday morning the shrine was shrouded in smoke from a large fire on
the northern edge of the Old City.

The attack did not appear to have damaged the dome of the mosque. But an
attack on Sunday night punched a deep hole in the west wall of the
shrine and scattered shrapnel and twisted pieces of metal across the

Mr. Sadr has rallied from military defeats before. But American
commanders said on Tuesday morning that they had been surprised by the
lack of resistance to the attack and that they believed that Mr. Sadr's
forces were becoming discouraged. 

"We want to destroy the enemy, destroy his will, make him fight on our
terms," said Lt. Col. Myles Miyamasu, commander of the First Battalion
of the Fifth Cavalry, which attacked from the north. "Slowly but surely,
we're achieving that."

Spokesmen for Mr. Sadr said Monday that his forces would continue to
resist. But many of the Shiite men who answered his call to come to
Najaf and join his militia are leaving the city, residents said Monday.
Small groups of men could be seen trudging away from the shrine on
Monday afternoon.

"They're running like deer," said Haidar Abdul-Hussein, a baker from the
area. "We know them because they're strangers, not from Najaf. Some even
ask directions."

Mr. Abdul-Hussein, who lives on the western edge of the Old City, said
he first began seeing fighters leave about three or four days ago.
Minivan drivers at Najaf's bus station for travel to and from southern
cities said Monday that the number of men leaving had steadily

Mr. Sadr himself has not been seen for more than a week, and aides
refused to disclose his whereabouts again on Monday.

Inside the shrine, a dwindling band of men napped and chatted on carpets
in the shade of the mosque's high walls. Many of the militiamen there
were from other cities, including Baghdad's Shiite slum area, and
badgered reporters for the use of satellite phones to call home.

The insurgents, who fought fiercely against marines when the battle of
Najaf began in early August, appear to have no answer to the tanks and
helicopter gunships that American forces are now using against them. On
Monday night, soldiers moved freely through the huge cemetery north of
the Old City , facing only light resistance: a half-dozen
rocket-propelled grenades and occasional sniper fire. The mortar attacks
that killed several American troops and wounded dozens more in the
cemetery were absent.

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